There’s a completely free service on the Internet that is so good, and so helpful, that I can hardly wait to tell you about it; and yet, I hesitate.
Imagine a web site where you can write in questions about finishing, and even woodworking, and get an answer, not from a gaggle of well-intentioned tyros, but direct from a bona fide expert in the field. To top it off, you usually get the answer in under a day; sometimes in just a few hours. Did I mention this is completely free?
So why my hesitation? Because I, your humble scribe, am the primary expert on finishing for this web site. Thus, I am honor bound to reveal my connection right up front. But now that the disclaimer is out of the way, let me tell you about www.woodanswers.com , because for those who struggle with finishing, it is the best thing since sliced bread.
Woodanswers is a web site where anyone can go to get fast, reliable, accurate answers to any finishing question. It is perfect for everyone from novices doing their first finish, to very experienced professionals who have run into an unexpected snag. Launched barely a year ago, they’ve already answered over 800 questions, and every one is in the web site archives. You can browse through more than four books’ worth of knowledge on every conceivable aspect of finishing. It is a cornucopia of good, solid information in the one area of woodworking that gives almost all of us grief.
The company behind it is Rust-Oleum. In addition to their Stops Rust line, they produce American Accents, Painter’s Touch, Epoxy Shield, Road Warrior, and marine coatings, but the two brands that are closest to the hearts of woodworkers are their Varathane and Watco lines.
To get the inside scoop on how this came about, and why Varathane and Watco are being so nice to us woodworkers, I had a chat with brand manager Lisa Skrdlant.
“We pride ourselves on having products that are state-of-the-art,” Lisa explained. “It only makes sense to offer information on the same level. That’s part of our company philosophy if you are going to offer something, make it the best. Woodanswers is part of that complete package. It just happens to be the free part.”
The opening of the site coincided with the launch of Varathane’s new line of wood stains, during which the company needed feedback from their customers. “We wanted woodworkers to have a place they could go to get ideas and ask questions, but we also want to learn from them. For us, it is a learning tool that will give us a better understanding of our audience, and their perspective about woodworking and finishing. It’s a venue both for helping, and for listening.”
“We started out getting 4,000 visitors a month without advertising. We were amazed by the number of people who wrote in questions about their woodworking projects, finishing or otherwise. That tells us that there is the need for this type of resource, where both advanced and novice woodworkers can go to ask questions. The average time a person stays once they come is 20 minutes, which is very long for a web site.”
For a sponsored site, it is rather low-key. “We don’t splash our product names all over, and we don’t try to sell you anything. It’s just a place to get information. We’re not making it a secret of who we are. We don’t mind having some visibility, but we don’t want our friends to feel they are being sold,” Lisa told me. “Many of our answers have nothing to do with any products we sell. Even for those that do, we typically give answers using generic material descriptions rather than brand names, so you can choose our products, or another company’s. Either way, we offer sound information, no matter whose products you choose.”
“Finishing is a much more intimidating activity that either woodworking or painting. Therefore, you need to feel confident that the person giving you advice really does know the answers, and has been there. For that reason, we have chosen to have one expert on our site to give valid answers.”
On a messageboard, you get a wealth of information, some of which is correct, and some of which isn’t. If you happen to listen to the wrong answer, it could ruin your project and turn you off from finishing. “We’re trying to establish credibility by having one consistent and reliable resource to go to. We’re trying to eliminate the problem of Internet debris.”
What’s in it for Varathane and Watco? “In the long run, we hope you will be more aware of our products. We strive to make the very best finishing products on the market. By also offering the best quality of information, we hope to offer customers a complete package. But it is more than just offering finishers a resource for solid information. We want to encourage people to try new things, create finishes they’ve seen or dreamt of, and inspire one another as they share their personal successes.”
“For a lot of people, finishing is a bit like Beauty and the Beast. It is both exquisite and frightening. We just want to eliminate the fear.”